Wife hates it, friends can't understand. I continuously find myself picking out older Jap cars that I consider stealthy performers with a cult like following. The likes include turbo Mx6, Protege LX, Sentra SEr, NX2000, Escort GT... These cars come up on CL all the time for way under $2k in great condition. For example- Ford Escort GT.
I had a 94 Protege LX that I picked up for 1300 five years ago. Clutch was $130 to my door. After that I proceeded to beat on it for the next year and half w/o a single problem. That including a 90mph round trip to Roebling Rd. and back loaded with a codriver, compressor and tools for a race weekend. It was replaced with an 02 IS300 and I won't deny the IS was nicer in every way... but factor in the cost vs. pleasure and I'm not so sure it was worth it. And with IS came concerns about the exterior condition. Should probably also mention that I only drive about 2500 miles per year- no major daily commute here.
One debate that often stems from this is the "get a boxster S and be done with it vs. the turbo miata." My counter point is that I just don't drive that much, if the Miata does break, it's never a big deal (time or money wise) to repair and in itself cost nearly nothing to own. I can't imagine I'd say that about the boxster. And to tell the truth, I don't see myself in a boxster unless it's on a race track. I know what I think of guys I see driving boxters and it's not too cool. It's like that GTO burn out video, only different the other way. Another point- I get WAY more satisfaction from putting boxter $ into the house.
My Saturn was dirt cheap for its condition and mileage. Its a 1992. Bought it for 3k with 30,000 miles on it back in '04. I'm not gonna lie. I've beat the **** out of it and it still looks good and still runs great. It passed 100k a couple weeks back. I'm gonna keep it when I get another car too.
There's a couple turbocharged ones that make 400-500 hp around here.
KL06 swap and t4 chinacharger makes for a cheap 400hp recipe. But you'd better be a transmission quick change artist. ;-) Of course there's all the traction you don't get with the power (notice the tacho)
+1 for 944obscene. I had a 94 saturn wagon for a couple years. Base model single cam, 5spd, air and cruise were the only options. Commuted 100 miles 7 days a week in it! 0 problems and avg'd about 35mpg. Actually pretty fun to drive. Low to the ground, light weight and with virtually 0 hp I could drive the crap out of it rowing through the gears and no one would notice! I find driving low hp low cornering limit cars enjoyable. You can push the limits constantly without getting into any real trouble. Good car control education.
Really like the xr4ti. Again tough to find in good shape or unmolested.
Triumph Spitfires can be found cheap and lot's of them are still in good shape and well cared for. Easier to work on, find parts for and better knowledge base and support than the Italians.
I don't think it's a problem. It seems pretty sane to me to appreciate cheap cars that you won't cry about if you total. Cars are primarily about utility. The first car I ever wanted to own was a classic se-r. I just couldn't find one in my area that wasn't totally riced out or otherwise destroyed.